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Olympic leaders agree on independent drug-testing system

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LONDON (AP) — In a shake-up of the drug-testing system in sports, Olympic leaders agreed Saturday that testing should be independent of sports organizations and urged the World Anti-Doping Agency to take over the responsibility on a global level.

In a separate decision, the IOC said competitions run by international federations or national Olympic bodies must allow entry to athletes from all member countries and give them equal treatment, or else the event will not be given Olympic qualifying status. The move addresses the issue of Israeli athletes being denied entry to some countries.

Doping topped the agenda of the “Olympic Summit” convened in Lausanne, Switzerland, by IOC President Thomas Bach. The meeting was attended by members of the IOC’s rule-making executive board, and leaders of international federations and national Olympic committees.

The group “decided to make anti-doping testing independent from sports organizations,” the IOC said in a statement. “The summit requested WADA to study taking responsibility for testing as the global center of competence in anti-doping.”

The study will be carried out by a WADA working group that includes Olympic leaders and government representatives. No time frame was given.

The move is aimed at giving more credibility to drug-testing by taking it out of the hands of sports bodies and event organizers and turning it over to an independent body.

Federations have been viewed as partial in drug-testing and less willing to uncover cheating in their own sport. Critics say the current system has an inherent conflict of interest.

Putting the testing in independent hands would introduce more legitimacy to the system, the Olympic leaders believe.

Sebastian Coe, the recently elected president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, has called for an independent body to handle drug-testing in track and field. He was among those who attended Saturday’s summit.

WADA, which was set up in 1999 to oversee anti-doping efforts around the world, does not carry out its own testing. It accredits labs around the world, which analyze samples.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Montreal-based body — headed by IOC vice president Craig Reedie of Britain — would be willing to expand its role by taking over independent testing across the board.

Such a move would require a major change in funding. Money that federations and other bodies spend on testing would have to be transferred to WADA or any other independent body set up for the testing.

Under the proposal, while the testing itself would be handled independently, the disciplinary procedures and sanctioning would be done by the federations.

It also wasn’t clear how the new system would affect the testing program at the Olympic Games. Traditionally, the testing is run by the IOC and the local organizing committee.

On another issue, the IOC dealt with the discrimination toward athletes from certain countries, without mentioning Israel by name.

“The summit agreed that for all competitions taking place under the auspices of an IF or NOC or their continental or regional associations, it has to be ensured that all athletes from all their members can enter a country to compete and are treated equally,” the statement said.

In August, an Israeli badminton player was denied a visa to compete in the world championships in Indonesia until the last minute and after intervention by the international federation.

Last year, the IOC issued a warning to the world baseball and softball confederation after an Israeli delegate was barred from displaying his national flag at a meeting in Tunisia.

The IOC is also concerned that athletes from Kosovo — which the IOC formally recognized in December 2014 — could face difficulties in some countries.

Saturday’s summit also urged sports bodies to comply with standards of good governance, reviewed the progress in setting up a digital Olympic Channel and hailed the bidding process that brought in five candidate cities — Budapest, Hamburg, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome — for the 2024 Games.

Among those attending the meeting were Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti who heads the global association of national Olympic bodies; acting FIFA President Issa Hayatou; and the heads of the U.S., Russian and Chinese Olympic committees.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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Another Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal being sold

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One of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Olympic gold medals will be put up for sale next week by Goldin Auctions.

Owens triumphed in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the Berlin Games, taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

This could be the second Owens gold to be sold in recent years, after one was auctioned in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Two more were said to be put up for auction in 2017, but there are no widespread reports of sales actually happening.

This gold medal was gifted by Owens to John Terpak, a U.S. Olympic weightlifter in 1936 and 1948, after Terpak helped Owens garner speaking engagements, according to Goldin. The previous gold that sold for $1.4 million was gifted by Owens to a different friend.

Terpak died in 1993 and passed the medal on to his son and daughter, who consigned it to Goldin.

The medal is part of Goldin Auctions’ Holiday Auction from Monday through Dec. 7 on GoldinAuctions.com. The listings also include Tommy Lasorda‘s autographed lineup card from the 2000 Olympic baseball gold-medal game.

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